Yay! Today is the first day of my vacation! 😉 That’s because I’ve finally released Jessabelle’s Beast, and I even got it published before schedule. I was shooting for early June, but it all came together faster than I thought it would. I’m very excited (and anxious) to see how it’s received.
I have to say, I love all my stories, but this one really touched me. Gorzo is so sweet and devoted, and Jessa has to deal with such a terrible conflict. They deserve each other, and happiness. Plus, it was nice to get to play with Lilith’s and Stacia’s characters again. Stacia is as stubborn as always, but she’s a loyal friend and I certainly can’t fault that!
The book is available on Amazon for only 99 cents for a limited time! It’s also available through KU. Please check it out, and if you enjoyed it, please consider leaving a review. They help immensely!
Gorzo has journeyed across a vast ocean to join the Umbrose in Sanctuary, but finds himself alone among them because of differences between his tribal upbringing and their city culture. When Lady Lilith convinces him to try a new matchmaking service to find a human mate, he’s at first reluctant. Then he sees Jessabelle Ellis from across the room, and in that moment, he knows with every fiber of his being that she was made for him. Having to hold his dangerous primal nature strictly in check where Jessa is concerned, Gorzo is anxious to offer her a claim as soon as possible, before his primal grows impatient and decides to dispense with the formalities and simply abduct her.
Jessabelle Ellis goes to the Outland Connections matchmaking company for her own complicated reasons, but after spending her childhood in an orphanage, she can’t help thinking it would be nice to have someone to call her own. When she sees Gorzo for the first time at a mixer set up by the company, she’s intrigued by him and feels a sense of kinship with him, noting that he seems as out of place among his people as she is among hers. When he returns her interest, Jessabelle is at first flustered, but as champagne flows through her, she relaxes enough to be more candid about her attraction… at least to herself.
Their next meeting places them on a dangerous path when Gorzo offers his claim and Jessabelle accepts, agreeing to move with him to Sanctuary. Their passion blooms quickly, but little do they know that the timer is ticking until Jessabelle’s past threatens to destroy their future.
Will their love be strong enough to survive whatever fate decrees for them? Or will they create their own destiny? No matter what happens, the people of Sanctuary will be changed forever.
Author’s note: 18+ Contains explicit content that may not be suitable for younger readers. Each book in the Shadows in Sanctuary Series is about a new couple finding love. They don’t have to be read in order, and each couple’s stories are resolved in their book.
Read on below for the first two chapters:
The loneliness had finally started to weigh on Gorzo. Strange that it had taken so long, but then again, he’d been busy of late. War had a tendency to occupy a person’s mind and distract from less important concerns.
Peace brought its own problems, though he wouldn’t trade it to return to the chaos of never-ending combat. With the new peace treaty between the umbrose and adurians, both sides could get on with the slow process of rebuilding the civilizations they’d systematically destroyed over the past few thousand years.
But he was a general—and a barbarian one at that. He didn’t have much experience with rebuilding cities, as his birth tribe from across the sea had lived as nomads. Even if he wanted to thrust himself fully into the resurrection of the past glory of the umbrose, Prince Balfor wouldn’t allow it. He’d personally decreed that Gorzo take a vacation.
Since Gorzo had no idea what that even meant, he’d gone hunting crystal wyrms to keep himself occupied and his skills sharp. Unfortunately, Princess Stacia declared that “hunting trips” did not qualify as vacation. He was supposed to “relax and unwind,” whatever that meant. She was unmoved by his defense that hunting did relax him. Instead, she said something about cultivating a “softer side” among the umbrose and had decided—much to his horror—to make a start with him.
This was why he found himself sitting uncomfortably on a plush chair in a beautifully decorated office belonging to Lady Lilith, the mate of Duke Ranove and the lead co-conspirator in this latest insane plan the human females had hatched to bedevil umbrose like him.
Lady Lilith regarded him with alien brown eyes above a bejeweled veil. “Tell me about your hobbies and interests, General.”
He resisted the urge to squirm under her steady gaze. He respected the lady—deeply—as despite the fact that she was human, she’d done a great deal for the umbrose and with Princess Stacia’s help had brokered a lucrative alliance between the humans and umbrose.
He still wasn’t comfortable speaking directly to her. It wasn’t the strangeness of her wingless appearance and pale skin or her oddly-colored eyes or multicolored hair. It was her physical fragility that made him feel like a giant crammed into a glass shop. Even her furniture and decorations seemed too fine and fragile for his presence. He was certain he was going to break something—so certain that it distracted him from her question as he eyed the furnishings and décor closest to him.
“General,” she prompted in a soft voice.
As she leaned forward onto her desk, bracing herself on her elbows, he leaned back in his chair for fear that even proximity to him would somehow break her. Logically, he knew that couldn’t be true, since Duke Ranove was about his height, if not as stocky. Still, he no more wanted to be in her presence than he would the presence of a newborn spawn. Some creatures were simply too small and delicate for his company.
His wingtips dug into the upholstered chair-back, and he heard a tearing sound. His primal cringed as he growled low in his throat, wanting nothing more than to escape this nightmare and wondering what he’d done to deserve this torturous punishment.
“General,” Lilith’s tone was no doubt meant to be reassuring but set all his sensory hairs on end. “I understand that this is a new experience for you—and the other umbrose—but it can be a fun experience, and you might meet someone who’s perfect for you.”
He’d long ago given up on finding a female who was perfect for him. Though he’d been allowed to settle in Sanctuary after his long and arduous journey from his homeland, the city umbrose had never truly grown comfortable around him. He was always something of an outsider, despite the skills that had earned him his high rank among them. Thus, no female would accept his claim and become his concubine.
Lilith was still talking, oblivious to the fact that he wasn’t really paying attention. Out of respect—and a ferocious desire to get this ordeal over with—he focused on listening to her words.
“… This opportunity to broaden your boundaries and find long-term companionship with a compatible human female.”
His claws clenched around the chair arms at the thought of claiming a human female as a concubine. It was the last thing he wanted. Despite their winglessness, they had an aesthetic shape that could be appealing, and most of the relevant parts that were so pleasing to a male were exactly where one expected them to be on a human female. He’d been reassured of that— discretely and diplomatically of course.
Yet human women were very fragile. They could not be bitten or scratched. They must be held carefully and softly. He couldn’t imagine how sex with such a female would be as passionate as he remembered it being with a strong, umbrose woman. His primal agreed with him completely. Being alone seemed far preferable to fearing at any moment that he might accidentally harm his human concubine. “Must I do this?”
Lilith’s eyes crinkled at the edges, implying a smile beneath her veil. “You sound as if I’m sending you to the dungeon, Gorzo! This isn’t a punishment! There’s actually a waiting list. Princess Stacia moved you to the top as a reward for all that you’ve done for the umbrose.”
He’d been afraid of that. The princess felt she owed him, for some reason, but her idea of a reward was far different than his own. He’d have been happier to have been allowed to continue hunting for his “vacation.” “I’ll give up my place on the list to another male.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m under express orders not to let you squirm out of this. The princess commands it.” Her tone sounded apologetic even as she said the words that were as good as law for the umbrose. “She won’t order you to choose a human concubine, but she wants you to at least fill out the forms and agree to meet any human females who might be a match.”
He sat back in the chair, wincing when his spurs tore into the fabric. Who makes a chair out of fabric, anyway? “My Lady, I’ll take the forms to fill out later.” He figured he could stall for a while and maybe she and the princess would give up on this whole plan.
The fabric of her veil fluttered and the jeweled chains chimed as she chuckled at his request. “You may be a tactical genius on the battlefield, Gorzo, but I don’t think you’re going to outwit Princess Stacia on this. Best just to get it over with.” She shrugged. “To be honest, there haven’t been as many human females signing up as we’d hoped—although more than we expected—so it would probably be months or even years before I’d have anyone you’d have to actually meet in person.”
That was some relief, at least. He felt awkward enough around this human female, and she was comfortable and familiar with umbrose society, even more so than he was actually, since he’d grown up in a very different culture than these city umbrose. Any new human they brought into Sanctuary would be facing a learning curve, which wouldn’t just be the language. His sigh was heavy and heartfelt. “I will answer your questions.”
Amusement tinged her voice as she said, “Great! Now…what are your hobbies and interests?”
Twenty-six year old Jessabelle Ellis stood in the alleyway between a high-end nightclub and a noodles restaurant doing a brisk after-hours business. Though it was well past the middle of the night, the streets were crowded with party-goers dressed in fine clothes that belied the recent shaky economy of Dome City. Some still wore breather masks despite the Hub dome having been repaired years ago after the rebellion that freed DC from the control of the Diakonos. The fashion fad had hung on with unusual tenacity.
Jessa didn’t have a mask on to conceal her face, but the narrow alley cast her in deep shadows. She felt more comfortable there than she ever did out on the streets where neon lights and holo-advertisements washed the city in light regardless of the hour. Between the buildings, the cacophonous noise of cruisers, music, voices, and blaring advertisements was also muffled. She preferred silence but rarely found it in the Hub.
The building across the street from her hiding place was mostly empty, but like the other establishments that flanked it, it was open for business even at this late hour.
Jessa had stood watch for almost two hours and had seen only two women enter through the wide, sliding synthglass doors. Once beyond the translucent doors which streamed videos of the Outlands across their surface, the women—who’d arrived together—had disappeared for nearly an hour before returning to the street clutching each other and giggling in the way of friends who’ve had too much to drink and then had done something crazy.
No one else had entered or left the offices of Outland Connections—a matchmaking company which set up meetings between “compatible” human women and umbrose males. Jessa wondered if the place did better business during the day. Given the lingering attitude of distrust and even disgust and fear towards the demonic-looking umbrose, she had her doubts. It seemed like an ambitious business plan destined for failure.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t yet failed, so she would have to go through with what she’d come here to do. She was going to sign-up to be connected and possibly matched with an umbrose warrior looking for a mate. She suspected the promotional materials used “mate” in the place of “concubine” because of its connotations for humans, but it really was the same arrangement. Isn’t it?
The word choice of mate seemed like a double-edged sword to Jessa. A concubine could remain detached and accept that the relationship was only temporary. Such detachment was ideal. A mate sounded more permanent, which caused Jessa to feel a desperate longing for a family she should have given up dreaming about long ago.
Sucking in a deep breath, holding it for a moment, and then releasing it in a rush, she squared shoulders clad in her serviceable jumpsuit—the uniform of the machine shop where she labored long, thankless days. She hadn’t bothered to change, too nervous to return to her tiny apartment above a grocery store just off of Halperin Street. If she’d gone home, she would have chickened out about coming here, and that was simply not an option.
She allowed a group of rowdy young adults to pass the alley before she stepped onto the sidewalk and out into the street beneath the lines of cruisers passing by overhead.
Glancing back at the partiers who were showing their wrist-comm identifiers to the bouncer at the nightclub, she shook her head at their youthful abandonment, wondering if she’d ever been so free. She couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t required to be calm, collected, and fully in control of herself and her actions. She’d never imbibed alcohol or any mind-altering substance because it might affect that control.
With her attention on the clubbers, she arrived at the doors to the Outland Connections office sooner than she’d expected. Suddenly, it was there in front of her, streaming videos of fantastic vistas of oceans, basalt barrens, and aerial shots of the massive jungle that covered most of the continent. She found it interesting that there were no videos of the umbrose themselves and very few shots of their city of Sanctuary—described as an architectural marvel built within the massive caverns of an extinct volcano. There was a voiceover that promised excitement and adventure, and the potential for true love, all for a low introductory price.
Bracing herself with a final deep breath, she pushed open one of the heavy synthglass doors and stepped inside the plush office of Outland Connections.
As soon as she entered, all eyes in the office turned to her. Unnerved by the focused interest, she froze at the entryway like a bug paralyzed in acrylic. Her gaze darted around the interior rather than meeting the eager eyes of the employees. Thick gray carpet muffled the steps of the trim, petite woman who’d pushed her chair back from her desk and jumped to her feet to greet Jessa.
The woman flashed perfect white teeth in a face tanned light brown by genetics rather than the meager sunlight that filtered through the domes. “Hello there! I’m Gloria Flores.” She held out a hand that Jessa took in a firm handshake, somewhat embarrassed by her own work-roughened palms. “Welcome to Outland Connections.”
“My name’s Jessabelle Ellis. I… uh, I’m here to see about your, um, matchmaking service.” She hated how uncertain she sounded. Usually, she could conceal how she really felt about any situation, but this time, she felt stripped bare and exposed, unable to raise the impassive mask that had served her all her life.
Gloria didn’t seem in the least bit fazed by her awkwardness. No doubt she’d encountered it before. Public opinion was still greatly divided on interspecies relationships with the umbrose, so women looking to Outland Connections were probably often skittish and unsure.
“That’s what we’re here for, Ms. Ellis. I’d be happy to help answer any questions you might have about the services we offer. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with all our options, and since we’re currently subsidized by the umbrose kingdom and the Common Counsel, our fees are extremely reasonable. Now is definitely the time to sign up!”
She motioned for Jessa to follow her back to her desk, passing other employees sitting in their little cubicles with expressions ranging from bored to disappointed.
As Jessa followed Gloria, the woman’s desk loomed ahead of them all out of proportion to its actual size. She briefly considered bolting for the exit but knew that wasn’t an option. She was committed to this. As intimidating as the idea was, she was going to find an umbrose mate.
“Do you like to fly?” Gloria’s question seemed out of place among the other comparatively standard questions about her hobbies and interests.
“I… is that necessary? I mean, do I have to like to fly?” Jessa had no problem with flying cruisers, but she’d never been a fan of solar-gliding, which was probably the closest in experience to flying with an umbrose.
Gloria shook her head quickly. “Not at all! Any umbrose you might be connected with would respect your wishes on that.” She tapped the datapad on her desk. “It’s just one of the questions on the form that helps us pair up those with shared interests. We want to make the best possible matches between our clients.”
Jessa glanced around the office, which was covered with pictures of different areas in the Outlands, and even some rare pictures of the beautiful city of Sanctuary. “Do you have any photos of the umbrose?” It was strange that they were absent. She’d expected a wall filled with photos of umbrose warriors looking for mates.
Gloria’s smile was strained. “The umbrose do not like to have pictures taken of them, and indeed, it’s often difficult to get a clear image, even with video. Something about the lighting around them casts them permanently in shadow. Though I’m sure you’ve seen images of them before.”
She had—on newstreams—but Gloria was right, they always seemed to be cast in shadow, so the images were never that clear. “Do you mean if you find a match for me, I won’t know what he looks like until I meet him in person?”
The matchmaker’s face pinched as if she’d eaten something sour. “We can request an image, though the best would probably be a drawing. However, we generally discourage that since we prefer our matches be based on more than simple physical attraction. We try to connect our clients without using pictures that can often be misleading.”
Gloria’s words made sense to Jessa, but it also didn’t matter. She certainly wasn’t interested in appearances. She needed to find an umbrose who would care enough about her that he’d want to bring her home with him. Although, the thought of anyone caring about her that much seemed impossible. When she’d been in the orphanage, none of the families who’d come looking for a child to adopt had chosen her, always passing her by for livelier, more outgoing children. Jessa had been too quiet and solemn, or so she’d been told by the counselor assigned to the orphanage. He’d told her to smile more at the adults looking for a child to call their own.
She mentally shook her head at the way her thoughts so quickly digressed to that lonely time. “How many… um… matches have been made?”
She could tell by the way Gloria’s expression went completely blank that it was the wrong question to ask. “Outland Connections has been steadily working since we first opened our doors six months ago to collate information for optimal client matches.” Her tone was carefully neutral and sounded like a recording.
“So… have you made any matches yet?”
With a heavy sigh, Gloria set the datapad down and rested her arms on her desk. Leaning forward, she regarded Jessa with a thin smile. “Look, we’re just starting out, and what we’re trying to do here is unprecedented. At the moment, we’re dealing with prejudices on both sides, so the going is slow.”
She leaned back in her chair and tucked a strand of hair that had escaped from her serviceable bun behind one ear. “This can work. Public opinion is difficult to change, but not impossible.” Clasping her hands over her flat stomach, Gloria continued. “You’re not our first human client. We have other women waiting to find out if they have a match among the umbrose who’ve expressed interest. However, we want to do this right. We want to make certain that no one is soured on the experience by a botched match. This is why we haven’t moved forward to arranging any actual meetings yet.” She gave Jessa a smile she probably meant to be encouraging after her little speech. “However, we’ve set up our very first mixer for our clients to meet in person for next month.” Picking up her datapad again, she glanced down at it. “If you get your paperwork in before the cutoff date, you’d be welcome to attend. You may not meet your match there, but you’d be able to meet some umbrose males in person.”
Next month wasn’t too long to wait. In fact, it seemed like too soon. Jessa still couldn’t believe she was doing this.